At the start of my last project, we found ourselves not with the infamous “spaghetti code” but with it’s interpersonal equivalent: spaghetti meetings.  While the group was discussing a topic someone would inevitably say, “Oh, that reminds me of…” and launch into a description of some related, but different, topic that.  This was disruptive and cut off those that were still waiting to speak on the initial topic.

Eventually I encouraged the team to use a technique which I’ve been using myself for some years.  When a related topic pops into my head in a meeting, I usually

  1. Note it down on a piece of paper
  2. Let the discussion on the current topic run its course. This allows everyone who wanted to speak about the current topic to get their chance, and the group to benefit from their thinking.  It also feels more inclusive. Once we’ve finished with the current topic…
  3. …then I introduce my new topic.

This simple technique seems to make a big difference.  Of course, it requires people to bring pen and paper to meetings and informal discussions.  With paper for notes there’s no need to blurt out something “just before I forget”.

You might notice that this is similar to the “parking lot” some meeting facilitators put up on a whiteboard.  Personally, I believe the pen and paper technique is even better.  With each person silently running their own personal parking lot on paper, there’s no interruption to the group at all.

2 comments on “Tame the spaghetti meeting

  • Hi Bob,

    I like the Lean Coffee approach. We use it at a lunchtime discussion group I attend. I was sceptical when it was described, but it works really well.

    I think there’s a difference, however, between the structure of a typical Lean Coffee (as I have seen it) and a typical workplace meeting. The former has an agenda composed of multiple, potentially-unrelated, topics. That set of topics is defined at the start. The latter has one overriding topic, and the set of sub-topics tends to emerge during the meeting as people think of them.

    Do you think this is a material difference?

    BTW Have you seen the Lean Coffee format tried in the workplace (I haven’t)?

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